Where we stand‎ > ‎News & Comment‎ > ‎

THE CONTRACT OF DECEIT:TOBAGO EDUCATORS UNDER PRESSURE By Orville Charles

posted 1 Oct 2015, 06:59 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 1 Oct 2015, 07:51 ]

ANR Robinson
The headline may seem over the top but for many it is the reality facing contract teachers in Tobago.  The deceit inflicted on contract teachers has come from all corners:  politicians (surprise), public servants in administrative positions, and believe it or not TTUTA, the representing union. 

In 1996, Parliament passed the THA Act which gave some autonomy to the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) to handle issues in the 5th schedule, including education. This, of course, was good in principle. The legislation was, however, poorly drafted with countless grey areas.

The then MP for Tobago West, Pamela Nicholson, warned about the shortcomings of the legislation and urged restraint; but her big brother colleague for Tobago East, the then Minister Extraordinaire (Mr. Robinson for younger readers who would ‘extraordinarily’ resign his position a few months later and take up the post of President), would have none of it and the flawed piece of legislation came into effect.

This seemingly well-intentioned item of legislation brought a number of political, economic, social and cultural problems. Finances allocated for the salaries of public servants and teachers were diverted to accommodate the ADDA investment and the Ringbang concert. The newly delivered autonomy was used to waste the public purse with apparent impunity as only politicians can.

It is important to remember that for a couple of months 2000 teachers and public servants were paid very late. They were left to face the unsympathetic loan sharks on their own. The response from the then Chief Secretary Mr. Hochoy Charles (also known as the Heavy Roller) was clear and forthright.  “I will do it again” he boldly proclaimed at public meetings all over Tobago leading up to the 2001 THA elations.  

Fully aware that the central government was engaging in similar corrupt exercises, he left Scarborough went to Woodford Square in Port of Spain  to warn the central government to leave Tobago alone and focus their investigations on the ministries in Trinidad (when you big you large and at the time  Mr. Charles was large, in charge and heavy).

Hochoy Charles

In 1996 the Signal Hill Comprehensive School began accepting students from form 1.  This was part of the overall de-shifting of the Schools, (although the only Junior Sec in Tobago, Scarborough, never operated on a shift system).  In 2000, with the coming of universal secondary school education post primary centres were created in the absence of schools to place the increased number of students who were guaranteed a secondary school education.   Over the next 5 years the post primary centres on the island became fully fledged secondary schools in Mason Hall, Goodwood and Speyside.  The Light and Life Pentecostal School was also built.

  The new schools had students but did not have teachers.  As you might have expected cabinet and the Executive Council of the THA boasted about the construction of the schools.  Cabinet however forgot or did not bother to create enough teaching positions for the new schools.  The response from the THA was, no problem at all, we will use the statutory toy of the THA Act and employ teachers on contract and call them ‘educators’. 

The established schools on the island Bishops High School, Roxborough Composite and Signal Hill Comprehensive joined the party and began expanding their staff with ‘educators’.  Soon enough there were more ‘educators’ in schools than appointed teachers. Many educators have not seen a contract or received a gratuity. 

Young graduates from university were sent to schools as ‘educators’.  They were not informed that they were being placed in contract positions.  Poor souls were first happy to get a work after spending 3 or more years in university.   They only recognized their true status when they began to approach lending agencies for loans and were not treated favourably.   It was then that the deception became clear to some.  When one of the ‘educators’ asked a senior administrative official about the issue, the response was “be happy you get a wok”.

In some instances persons are educators due to the failure of the Division of Education to send their files for assessment and interview by the Teaching Service Commission (TSC).  Without an assessment you cannot be interviewed and without an interview you cannot be appointed, whether temporary or permanent, to any teaching post.  Thus, some established posts lay vacant for years because the persons working in these posts’ documents were left unprocessed for years.

In 2011, teachers at Mason Hall Secondary decided to take a collective step to remedy the situation.  A letter was sent to the Administrator of the Division inquiring, inter alia, into the number of permanent positions at the school.  The Division did not respond.  Delegations were sent to the Division to solicit a response. 

They were told in no uncertain terms that such information will not be provided.   The teachers then applied for the information under the Freedom of Information Act.  It did not surprise them that the Division did not respond.  The teachers also kept TUTTA abreast of the events.  TUTTA, like the Division, did not respond to the letters sent to them. Meanwhile, teachers at Scarborough Secondary also began to agitate for regularization.

This prompted TUTTA to finally get involved and a demonstration was organized outside the offices of the Education Division.   The union leaders were then called to a meeting with the then Secretary and other senior officers of the Division.  The usual promises were made and TUTTA was quite content with the comfort of the promises. 

Orville London

The plight of the teachers/ educators however did not improve and the teachers decided to continue their struggles for regularization.  A visit was made to the Chief Secretary, Mr London, and true to form he empathized with the teachers’ plight. He promised to investigate and told the teachers he will contact them within a week. The week passed with no word from the Chief Secretary and several attempts to contact his office proved futile. The Chief Secretary ignored the teachers thereafter.  He wouldn’t be a politician if he didn’t make a promise and failed to live up to it, would he?

A decision was then taken to highlight the problem in the media.  Interviews were done on both the local Channel 5 and national TV 6 stations. The Division refused to bow to the public exposure about their non-compliance with the freedom of information request.  The media exposure however prompted a response from TTUTA.  A delegation from TTUTA led by the 2nd Vice President including, the Tobago officer, marched into the school and accused the teachers of badgering the Division. 

The Tobago Officer of the Union went as far as to tell the teachers/educators to ‘back off’ from the Division.  This action by the Union hurt the teachers with some of them vowing never to join the union and others reconsidering their membership.

The union officials never visited the school when copies of letters sent to the Division were sent to them, however they were telling teachers to ‘back off’ from the Division and that they could lose their jobs for talking to the press.  The teachers informed them that the Constitution was the Supreme Law of the land and, further, the Privy Council had already ruled that such archaic provisions violated constitutional rights.

But why would a representing union undermine their own membership and side with employers’ hell bent on being unjust?  The answer lies in the old saying ‘he who pays the piper calls the tune.’ TUTTA depends on the very THA and more specifically the Division for funding for its Tobago activities which includes a Tobago Teacher Talent contest – the Division sponsors the event.   

A very cozy relationship has now developed between TTUTA and the Division.  This relationship has no place for a 3rd party as three is a crowd even if this ‘third party’ happens to be the very reason for the Union’s existence.  All for the sake of a few dollars the representing union undermined teachers. How much acts of betrayal must workers in this country take?

The teachers at the Mason Hall Secondary, recognizing that TTUTA will not be of much assistance decided to take legal action against the Division for not releasing the information under the Freedom of Information Act.

It was too expensive to pay an attorney and so one of their members with knowledge of the law fought the case himself and filed for judicial review. Leave was obtained and it was only at this point that the Division produced the requested documents. Justice Boodoosingh in his wisdom felt it was not necessary to make a ruling then because they produced the document.

The documents obtained from the court revealed that there were only 18 cabinet created teaching positions at that school.  The school had a staff of 50 teachers.  Contract teachers outnumbered appointed teachers by almost 3:1. It is said that the situation at other schools could be worse.

The fallout from the court matter had another twist to it. The teacher who fought the case was on secondment from the public service. Before his term expired, he wrote to the Division requesting to be appointed on transfer as this is normal for those on secondment. Two registered letters were sent to the Administrator of the Division but there was no response from the Administrator.

The teacher then got a letter from the Division informing him that he would no longer be working at the school when the secondment expires.   Numerous attempts to get a proper explanation for the termination failed. The teacher had good staff reports and was even acting as Head of Department.

He was then thrown out. It does not take a genius to figure out what were the real reasons for the termination. If the teacher was brave enough to be at the forefront of the struggle, other teachers may have gained courage and continued the struggle. The old Chinese proverb of kill one and frighten a thousand came to the fore. In such a situation the teacher had to go.

LEGAL PROCEEDINGS

Legal proceedings were instituted against the Division which went to court and argued that the teacher was not qualified to be in the service. This argument was made after he had been in the service for 6 years and acted as Head of Department. Interestingly, he was called into the service by the very Division. Amazingly, this seemingly nonsensical argument found favour with Justice R Mohammed. The matter has since been appealed. It is an interesting case to follow.

What was even more disturbing is the role played by TTUTA’s then Tobago Officer in that case. One teacher at another school was at one time on secondment in a similar position to that of the Mason Hall school teacher. Her assistance in the court matter was necessary to show unequal treatment by the Division. In order to defend the Division, the Tobago Officer advised the teacher not to support her Mason Hall colleague. Once again the union, whose responsibility it is to protect the interest of teachers, operated against such interest.

The tactic of throwing out the Mason Hall teacher seemed to have worked; at least for a while. Things were rather quiet until the Division’s deceit reared its ugly head again. Following the salary increases for the period 2011-2014, a decision was taken not to give the salary increases to contract teachers. This, of course, is not in keeping with what occurred before so it came as a shocker to the contract teachers.

This time the politicians, Administrators and TTUTA may have all under estimated the teachers’ resolve. The teachers have taken matters into their own hands. Speyside High and Scarborough Secondary were recently forced to close early as the teachers showed strength in numbers. A gathering of no less than 50 went to the Division’s office and forced the Administrator to have a meeting with them. Promises (again) have been made. 

TTUTA’s Tobago Officer responded on television by denying all accusations that TTUTA was not helping the teachers (really!), but in the same breath stated that TTUTA did not sanction the action of the teachers. He went further to state that the teachers should get their full pay but TTUTA is willing to negotiate on the back pay issue.

I must have missed something because who gave TTUTA the authority to negotiate the teacher’s back pay, especially when they were not fighting for them all along. Cognizant of this, Martin George, one of the leading attorneys on the island, has been hired to seek justice for the teachers. The Chief Secretary has promised the issue of salaries will be settled by the end of October but made no mention of the back pay or the whole issue of contract teachers.

The only real salvation for these teachers is for the cabinet of Trinidad and Tobago to create permanent positions for them at their schools.  However the THA must make requests for these posts and in many cases they only make demands for things that profit the elites. 


SPOKESPERSONS FOR TTUTA ARE FREE TO COMMENT ON THE ABOVE ARTICLE

 AND HAVE THEIR COMMENT PUBLISHED ON THIS WEBSITE!

COMMENTS MAY BE SENT TO: kangaz@workersunion.org.tt

Comments